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Video | An Idiot's Guide to the Mercedes-Benz G500

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author photo by Tyler Hoover November 2017

I have to admit, this diehard Mercedes fan has always been frustrated with the G-Class. It's not because it isn't cool or interesting, but rather because I could never justify the used prices of these rugged machines. While the typical Mercedes depreciates to the same price as a new iPhone after 15 years, a similar-age U.S.-spec G500 is hard to find for under $30,000. This didn't make any sense to me -- until I finally got the chance to drive one this holiday weekend.

It's amazing this top-heavy, overbuilt and ancient military-style vehicle has survived into the age of the crossover SUV. With the Land Rover Defender's retirement, it really is the last of the dinosaurs built with the purpose of being an off-roader first and a posh kid-carrier second -- though it remains a bigger status symbol than most of its competition.

When I arrived at the Denver airport, the owner of the 2005 G500 I rented had left the car with the valet at the airport Westin hotel. Even though it had been dropped off 5 hours earlier, the G remained sitting in front of the hotel. I'm certain that, during this period, many cars far more valuable than the G500 were driven into the parking garage and out of sight, while the valet decided this 12-year-old Mercedes was worth displaying in the motor-court. The same thing happened when I used the valet at a posh hotel in the ski-resort town of Vail, where I ate a Bavarian pretzel the size of my head. New Range Rovers were shooed away to the garage while the G remained on display, to be viewed by every guest passing through the doors.

While driving around, I also noticed people looking at me as if they were trying to figure out whether someone important was driving this car. I swear I'm not making this up, and I wasn't doing anything stupid to attract attention to myself, either. Something about the G-Class makes it special enough to attract this kind of attention.

This is all pretty silly -- especially when you look underneath the 40-year-old design and see most of the electrical components found in much lesser Mercedes-Benz models. The instrument cluster, the climate control unit, the window switches and several other parts are all straight out of an old C-Class, and somewhat crudely fitted to the ancient structure. The G500's V8 engine and transmission are also generic, and they were barely up to the task of propelling this 5,400-pound behemoth quickly enough to keep up with traffic in the mountain passes. The high center of gravity, poor aerodynamics and uncomfortable seats made it something of a chore to drive this G, too.

Of course, highway driving was not what these were built for. Despite changing times, when even the new Jeep Wrangler is abandoning solid axles, the G-Class still sports this ancient setup, with giant stiff springs and shocks. The indestructible 4x4 system also has the ability to individually lock both differentials and the transfer case, while the uncommon wheelbase proportions give the G fantastic approach and departure angles.

Even though all this capability is never fully utilized by the vast majority of G-Wagen owners, it's easy to see why a vehicle as durable as this would remain valuable. It also helps that a 2002 G500 looks almost identical to a new 2017 model -- but I think the "it" factor I experienced behind the wheel is what really keeps the old G-class an expensive, sought-after machine. I guess I'm used to being in the minority with my appreciation of aging, needy German cars, and I'm surprised by the broad-based appeal of the older G500. Given they'll likely never depreciate from their current values -- as I can't imagine the G continuing forever -- this may actually be a bargain when considering the total cost of ownership over time.

And here I go again trying to justify another vehicle purchase...

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Video | An Idiot's Guide to the Mercedes-Benz G500 - Autotrader